For many sports enthusiasts, making contact is what real competition is all about. Youth football is an integral part of American culture, and the Super Bowl is the most watched annual event on television. Soccer, which fills huge stadiums the world over, is among the most popular youth sports in the United States. Other contact sports like lacrosse, from Native American tradition, and British rugby have become popular as well.
All these sports require miles of running — with quick stops and starts — per game. Competition is usually on grass fields, which “give” so players may change direction quickly. It also provides a soft landing surface on which to crash.
Injuries are inevitable in contact sports. The lower extremities — an athlete’s steering, accelerator, and braking systems– are particularly susceptible. But with proper conditioning, equipment, and technique, competitors in contact sports have successful, healthy playing seasons.
Podiatric physicicans, specialists in care of the lower extremity, not only treat injuries athletes and get them back into competition as soon as safely possible, but also help athletes get into a condition that minimizes their risk of injury to the foot and ankle.
Preventing “Overuse” Injuries
The time a football, soccer, or lacrosse player spends in an actual game represents only a tiny fraction of time spent in practice, conditioning for competition. Practice involves hours of running, repetitive drills, and scrimmages every day.
While conditioning excercises in practice will strenghthen and improve flexibility in the lower extremity, the repeated stress of practice may bring on chronic, or “overuse” injuries. These injuries can nag at a player and hamper, if not end, a season of competition.
Overuse injuries also come from faulty biomechanics of the feet — how the lower extremity physically adjusts to the ground. If an athlete has “flat” feet, which tend to pronate (out-toe) or excessively high arches, which often supinate (in-toe), extensive running and cutting can produce chronically strained ankles.
Before taking the practice field, it’s wise to be examined by a podiatric physician specializing in sports medicine, who will identify any biomechanical abnormalities that increase the chance of injury. The podiatrist may recommend specific excercises to strengthen and improve flexibility of the foot and ankle, or recommend taping or padding of the foot or ankle before practice and competition. A podiatrist may also prescribe orthoses, customized shoe inserts that correct biomechanical problems by redistributing the body’s weight.
Podiatric physicians say proper stretching and warm-up before and after home workouts, practice, and before games go far to prevent overuse injuries to the supporting structures of the lower extremity. Warm-up and cool-down exercises should take 5-10 minutes and should be conducted in a stretch/hold/relax pattern, without any bouncing or pulling. When muscles are properly warmed up, the strain on muscles, tendons, and joints is reduced.